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Senegal colossus proves sore point

African Renaissance statue

By Tidiane Sy
BBC News, Dakar

A gigantic, multi-million dollar bronze statue rising over the skyline of the Senegalese capital is causing a colossal storm for the man who conceived it.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has called it "African Renaissance" but his critics say it reveals more about the continent's poor governance than its renaissance.

President Abdoulaye Wade
We should see how we share the benefits. The state will go with 65% and l shall take 35% for myself
President Abdoulaye Wade

When it is finished, the statue will be taller than New York's Statue of Liberty - it had been said it would be bigger than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

It depicts three figures - a man holding a woman behind him and a child aloft and pointing out to sea.

Mr Wade wants it to represent the new aspirations of a younger generation and to become a money-making tourist attraction.

But there have been gasps about the $27m (£17m) price tag and the fact that it is being made by North Koreans.

"I hear some people compare the Renaissance statue to the Eiffel Tower," says Amadou Camara, who teaches economics and is the director of the Commerce and Business Institute in Dakar.

"But the French had first sorted out their food before they built the Eiffel Tower."

'Not African'

Art-lovers have also expressed concern. For some it has a Stalinist feel reminiscent of communist regimes, while others simply say it has no real soul or African appeal.

"To have a work of art in the town, it's very good. The only thing is, for me, it's not typically African," says Alassane Diagne, an art promoter in Dakar.

"I don't understand why we didn't have an African artist."

Joel Dussy Fall, the owner of one of the country's best-known art galleries is also confounded by the fact it was not designed and built in Africa.

View of the statue from the streets of Dakar

But it is the revelation that the president himself wants to earn money from the venture that has really shocked city residents.

When he visited the building site in September, he explained how the money generated from people visiting the site and its museums would be shared.

"The land is state property and the fees to build the statue have been paid by the state... but I am the designer, the one who conceived it," said Mr Wade.

"So we should see how we share the benefits. The state will go with 65% and l shall take 35% for myself."

There's not a single large monument to visit in Dakar, so I believe this has come at the right time
Painter Kalidou Kasset

Ousseynou Nar Gueye, an expert in intellectual property law, has written articles of protest in Senegalese newspapers, saying Mr Wade has no right to earn royalties from the project.

"As a designer, he is entitled to have a payment if ever he was the designer, but this is the down-payment which is paid once," he says.

He also says as a public servant, the president cannot claim copyright over ideas conceived as a function of his office.

"I strongly believe the president of the republic has no legal ground to claim a payment of 35% of all the money derived from La Renaissance," he said.

Mr Camara says the president's demands are that of a businessman rather than a man of the people.

"Since the beginning of the world, I have never heard, I have never seen, or never read, that a president has created something for his country, and is demanding 35% in return," he says.

"This should belong to Senegal - that is if any income is generated, all of it - 100% - should be allocated to Senegal."

Unused land

However, the project has its defenders, including painter Kalidou Kasset, who believes it can only do good for the arts scene.

Close up of the baby figure in the African Renaissance statue
Some critics feel the statue has a Stalinist feel

"We have a problem with large monuments in the cultural field… and the artists have always denounced that situation," he says

"So if structures are built, it only can make the Senegalese artists happy… and there's not a single large monument to visit in Dakar, so I believe this has come at the right time."

Aliou Sow, a government minister, argued when the ruckus first began that the land used to build the monument was sitting unused and drying under the sun.

President Wade should be praised for making good use of it, he said.

But the reactions which followed prompted him to join the rest of the government and keep quiet.

Well, quiet at least until next April when the monument is to be officially unveiled during a ceremony the government wants to be "big" and "memorable".



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